Classical Music

American Snapshots With Da Camera

An interview with Da Camera’s General Manager Ab Sengupta about their opening concert this weekend.

Photograph of Aaron Copland for the “Young Peoples’ Concerts” series produced by CBS television and the New York Philharmonic, c. 1970.
Photograph of Aaron Copland for the “Young Peoples’ Concerts” series produced by CBS television and the New York Philharmonic, c. 1970.
This weekend Da Camera begins its 2015-2016 season with their opening concert, Snapshots of America, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw, pianist Gilbert Kalish, Sō Percussion, and various local musicians in performances of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, selected songs by Charles Ives, and George Crumb’s Winds of Destiny.

The overall season is titled Snapshots: Time and Place, and in the words of Da Camera’s General Manager Ab Sengupta, “[Da Camera is] … looking at specific points in time, or let’s say a decade, through the lens of music… whether it’s performers who typified an age, or composers, or a musical movement of some sort or development.” This includes a performance with the Orlando Consort in April featuring music from the 1400s, an all-Beethoven program in November, and this weekend’s concert centered on prominent 20th-century American composers, as well as many other performances throughout the year.

Regarding the concert this Saturday, most patrons are likely familiar with Aaron Copland (1900-1990). If you didn’t grow up with the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” commercials, you’ve still probably heard the Hoe-down from Rodeo at least once, and if not that, you might know his Fanfare for the Common Man. Appalachian Spring is another of his most famous works, and many might recognize his variations on “Simple Gifts” at the concert.

Ives and Crumb might be a little more obscure to some listeners. Charles Ives (1874-1954) was an American composer who actually had a successful career as an insurance agent alongside his work in music. As Mr. Sengupta describes it, “He didn’t have to subscribe to trends and fashions or whatever you might call them, and he wrote startlingly original music… very experimental at times, but also very beautiful at times… he really valued the source material of early American songs, and hymns, and battle cries…” An excellent example of the interplay of Ives’ experimental techniques with more traditional sounds can be found in the second movement of Three Places in New England. You might recognize many of the famous American tunes sprinkled throughout. Still, not all of his music is so jarring, such as one of the selections for this weekend’s concert: “Songs My Mother Taught Me.”

As for George Crumb (1929 – ), he also enjoys experimentation and unusual techniques in his music. His most famous piece might be Black Angels, which, as its title might give away, is not exactly a light and fluffy piece. Still, like Ives, Crumb has proven to be quite versatile with his style and capable of writing music with different sensibilities. For instance, The Winds of Destiny (also known as The American Songbook IV), which is “George Crumb’s reimagining and arrangements of well-known early American songs and Civil War songs like ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home,’ and ‘Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,’” in the words of Mr. Sengupta.

You can experience these American “snapshots” with Dawn Upshaw, Gilbert Kalish, Sō Percussion and Da Camera this Saturday, September 26th at 7:30 PM at the Wortham Theater Center. More information can be found on Da Camera’s website.

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